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Businesses can legally require masks

T-R photo by Thomas Nelson People come and go out of Marshalltown’s Walmart on Thursday after the company announced people would be required to wear masks inside starting Monday. The announcement was made Wednesday.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some businesses have made the decision to require customers to wear face masks. That decision could have been made toward the beginning, or recently. Walmart announced it would require all customers to wear masks starting Monday.

Brandon Buck, an attorney at Moore, McKibben, Goodman and Lorenz, said this is an action taken by businesses that has not ended up in litigation yet. However, he said businesses have the right to make the requirements without violating any laws. Buck said it would be similar to a dress code.

“I am not saying it violates rights. I am not saying it doesn’t,” he said. “Now, if there was an implication with the ADA, that is possible. Whether or not this issue is about freedom of speech or a political statement could be implicated but only if it applies to government action.”

He said it could be possible that people protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act could be affected by mask requirements, especially if it impacts their ability to get service.

“It could affect their rights, at least in theory,” Buck said. “If someone is not protected under the ADA, I don’t know.”

Without any litigation history of mask requirements, he said there was a lot unknown. Although, a case could occur in the future, but Buck thinks it would more likely occur if the requirement was made in government buildings.

“For a private business, there could be litigation, but I am not sure it would be as much of a problem, I guess,” he said. “This is fairly new. This was not a big issue until now.”

The Marshalltown Police Department put up a Facebook post on Thursday regarding businesses requiring masks. The post stated businesses can legally require patrons to wear a face mask or covering. If people do not want to wear masks, they could do business elsewhere. The post further stated it is legal for businesses to enforce policies and ask a person to leave.

Chief Mike Tupper said the post was a preemptive strike because wearing or not wearing masks is a controversial issue.

“I am anticipating we will get calls now that Walmart is doing it and I know other businesses are thinking about it,” he said. “We wanted to push out information and share facts.”

Tupper said businesses have the right to refuse service to people and ask them to leave.

“I look at it as ‘No shirt, no shoes, no service,'” Tupper said. “If we receive a call someone is refusing to leave, we will come out and try to mediate that. We cannot and will not enforce business policy, but if someone is trespassing, we can mediate that.”

Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce President Lynn Olberding said she knew of two Marshalltown businesses that require customers to wear masks — Walmart and Menards. She has seen a lot of businesses hang signs stating masks are encouraged but not required.

“It is up to the business to do what they feel is best for their customers and for their staff,” Olberding said. “People should understand the requirements and restrictions businesses are asking of the public and then find ways to support the businesses where they feel most comfortable.”

She has not seen anything like this in the years she has been with the Chamber, but then again, Olberding said these are unprecedented times.

“Our message is to support businesses,” she said. “If you do not want to walk in, but they do curbside, that’s great. Please support local businesses. Everybody is making the decisions that is best for them based on the information they have. This is not an easy situation for anyone.”

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Contact Lana Bradstreamat 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.

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